Consolidation group submits petitions to county school superintendent

Jenn Nelson of the Yavapai County School Superintendent's Office accepts petitions Monday morning from members of the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools  to have the school district consolidation question placed on the November 2018 ballot. From left, Andy Groseta, Nelson, Jerry Brown, Bob DeGeer and Phil Terbell. They submitted petitions with 2,312 voter signatures requesting consolidation be placed on the ballot. (Photo by Nanci Hutson)

Jenn Nelson of the Yavapai County School Superintendent's Office accepts petitions Monday morning from members of the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools to have the school district consolidation question placed on the November 2018 ballot. From left, Andy Groseta, Nelson, Jerry Brown, Bob DeGeer and Phil Terbell. They submitted petitions with 2,312 voter signatures requesting consolidation be placed on the ballot. (Photo by Nanci Hutson)

PRESCOTT – Though there are differing opinions on whether a merger of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and the Mingus Union school districts would save money, a former Mingus Union school board member and his political action committee have found more than 2,000 community members who sided with his view that the two districts should become one.

Monday, members of Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools submitted pro-consolidation petitions with 2,312 signatures to the Yavapai County Schools Superintendent’s office in Prescott.

“From the beginning of this process, we were confident that we could collect the minimum number of signatures,” said committee leader Andy Groseta, whose group was required to produce at least 1,619 signatures for the districts’ consolidation to be placed on the November ballot.

According to Groseta, “approximately 100 people” carried petitions, “including both volunteers and paid circulators.”

After several hours spent on what Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter called a “very cursory check,” 2,121 signatures were accepted.

Mingus Union School Board Member Steve Gesell said Monday that he had “little doubt” the Groseta group would collect the necessary signatures.

“Who’s not going to say yes to [putting money back into the classroom]?” Gesell asked rhetorically. “I think the far more compelling argument is that they’re not right. The language on the ballot measure clearly asserts that there will be savings. I don’t think anyone can say that with any assurity.”

Seeking consolidation

In early 2017, Groseta first pleaded with the governing boards of each school district to seek consolidation with the other.

From day one, the platform of the Groseta group has been that eliminating administrative redundancies would result in money that the new district could direct to the classroom, such as teacher salaries.

“The teacher salary discrepancy needs to be one of the first items addressed by the board of the newly created district,” Groseta said Monday. “We strongly believe that salaries need to be equalized ASAP either the first year or phased in over a two- to three-[year] period. We believe that there will be adequate cost savings achieved through consolidation to resolve this very important issue.”

Groseta’s committee has also ascertained that by consolidating the K-8 Cottonwood-Oak Creek district with the grades 9-12 Mingus Union district, that curriculums could be “better aligned from K-12 and the school calendars will be the same, making it better for families that have children enrolled in the K-12 district.”

Perceptions

Though the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board decided in December that it wanted to see consolidation in the hands of the voters, the Mingus Union board has not followed suit.

On May 17, Gesell told his fellow board members that he’s “all about power to the voters,” but he believes the language in the recently passed SB 1254 “clearly implies there will be a savings.”

“The problem I have is that they’re selling it as fact before getting answers,” he said. “I have concerns what perceptions are being sold to the people.”

Gesell also pointed out that consolidation talks should not be looked at as “our camp and their camp.”

“It’s not us and them,” he said.

County superintendent explains process to accept petitions, verify signatures

Monday, Andy Groseta and his Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools submitted 175 pages of signatures to the office of the Yavapai County Schools Superintendent, a statement from more than 2,000 people that they would like to see the consolidation of Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts be decided by voters.

There are “common misperceptions” regarding the petition process, said Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter.

For one thing, Carter said it is not the job of the superintendent’s office to verify the signatures.

“The citizens are the ones who can determine the validity of the signatures,” Carter said.

Carter said that members of the public may “come in and request a copy of the documents.”

“They could look up every one of those names,” Carter said. “If they can find enough signatures they can prove are not valid, they can file a suit in Superior Court. If the judge says they are not valid, if they don’t reach the magic number, it doesn’t go onto a ballot.”

Cursory check

Based on the criteria of how a petition is supposed to be filled out, Carter’s office determines “how many [signatures] we’ll accept.”

Carter refers to the process from his office as a “cursory check.” Not to suggest that his people lack attention to detail, not by a long shot. But there is specific information that the superintendent’s office checks.

On the front of each petition, each signature must be accompanied by the voter’s printed name and address, including city, state, zip code and date signed.

If a paid circulator solicited signatures, that person must check a designated box on the front of the page.

The back of each petition must include the county in which it was circulated, as well as the name and address of the circulator, and the date. The back of each petition must be notarized.

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